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Delaware Docket Newsletter
DELAWARE COURTS AND OTHERS UNITE TO FACE COURTHOUSE TRAGEDY

February 11, 2013 was one of the most difficult days in the history of the Delaware Judiciary. The events that occurred on the morning of February 11 – the tragic shooting in the lobby of the New Castle County Courthouse (NCCCH) in Wilmington – cost two victims their lives, injured two Capitol Police officers, and represented a direct attack, not only on the victims, but also on the justice system. At the beginning of the courthouse day, which is the busiest time for jurors, litigants, court employees and others to enter the NCCCH, the former father-in-law of a litigant entered the lobby and shot and killed his former daughter-in-law and her friend as they entered the lobby to attend a child support hearing. Capitol Police officers in charge of courthouse security succeeded in securing the courthouse entrance, but not before two officers were hit in the chest by the gunman’s bullets. Luckily, neither of the officers’ injuries were fatal, thanks to their bulletproof vests. The gunman took his own life at the entrance doors after being wounded by Capitol Police gunfire.

“These attacks could ‘easily have shaken our system to its core because it attacked the center of our justice system – our courts’. It is through our preparatory actions (while hoping that an event like this will never occur), and our reactions after a tragic event like this one, that those in the courts and state government come together to demonstrate our commitment to justice.”

Chief Justice Myron T. Steele

Directly following the shooting, emergency procedures went into effect. First responders, including police from all state and local agencies, and court security officers, reacted immediately and began the process of searching and securing the courthouse. Security officers gathered employees to ensure their safety, interviewed those who witnessed the shootings, and then evacuated the courthouse. The Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) staff, in coordination with Chief Justice Myron T. Steele and the Courts’ Operational Policy Committee, consisting of a judicial representative from each court in that building, led the emergency response activities for the courts.

Following the shooting, there was an outpouring of support and offers of assistance to the courts from all segments of the community, including Governor Jack Markell and his staff, legislators, and many others, during that day and the days that followed. The AOC communicated critical information to NCCCH staff and the public through email, website postings, and press releases. Counseling services were made available for the approximately 650 employees working in the NCCCH and members of the public directly affected by the shootings, by phone (24 hours a day) or in person off-site the day immediately following the shootings, and on-site when the courthouse reopened. Tremendous efforts were made by all to ensure that the courthouse lobby and security were ready for court employees to return to the courthouse on February 13, 2013. That day, with employees in attendance and very limited access to the building by the public, allowed the court employees time to attend a briefing with Chief Justice Steele and to meet with victims’ assistance/crisis counselors located in the NCCCH. Over 200 employees, and several members of the public, took advantage of the opportunity to meet with counselors that day. The next day, Thursday, February 14, 2013, the NCCCH was reopened to the public and full operations resumed.

In his remarks to the court employees on February 13, the Chief Justice addressed the difficulty of balancing the goals of security and access to justice, and spoke of future efforts to “look thoughtfully at the lessons we take away from this tragedy and apply them to our mission.” He spoke of the heroism of the Capitol Police officers who “kept what was a very tragic event from being catastrophic,” and of the importance of security training, including active shooter training, which occurs regularly at the NCCCH. He expressed his appreciation for the employees of the Judicial Branch, who displayed tremendous professionalism and resilience against adversity, including their “awe-inspiring” calm execution of the evacuation order, “their patience in the hours after the event waiting for the ‘all clear’ sign before they could return home to loved ones,” and “willingness to come back to the courthouse to perform their important work.” He concluded: “Sadly, these types of acts of violence are no longer infrequent events. As the National Center for State Courts reported on February 12, 2013, the NCCCH shooting was at the least the sixth violent attack either in or directly outside a courthouse across the nation in the last 18 months. The seventh incident, involving a shooting outside a courthouse in South Carolina, occurred on Wednesday, February 13, 2013. All of us in the court and justice communities must make sure that we have procedures and structures in place to prevent, whenever possible, and manage, when necessary, horrific events like what occurred in the New Castle County Courthouse in Delaware.”

SECURITY TRAINING EXERCISE AT THE NEW CASTLE COUNTY COURTHOUSE

Members of Capitol Police and security personnel at the New Castle County Courthouse will be participating in a Homeland Security Tabletop Exercise Program (Wilmington) in June 2013. This will provide an excellent opportunity for law enforcement, first responders, court security officers, homeland security and the U S Marshal’s Service to participate in a joint Active Shooter training exercise.

The training exercise will focus on:

  • Command, control and coordination in response to an active shooter incident
  • Notification and emergency communications capabilities during an emergency
  • Public information coordination and dissemination activities during an active shooter incident
  • Evacuation procedures
  • Communication protocols during an active shooter event in downtown Wilmington
  • Development of a lockdown procedure for buildings

The program will be hosted by Delaware Emergency Management Agency and the City of Wilmington’s Office of Emergency Management.

For further information, contact james.wright@state.de.us

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